Read Beth’s previous post, Lioness Tango: One of a Kind
Tango is a very playful lion, especially considering she is 19 years old. Her current most-prized possession is her rope toy. When she sees it, she gets so excited. She carries it around with pride, and she always keeps it at her side. If we hide it, she finds it and brings it back to her bed. Tango gets bones several times a week, and even they come in a distant second behind her rope toy. Some days we put her bone or her rope toy or both in her bedroom; she carries out onto exhibit whichever item she wants the most that day. Some days she picks her bone, but most days she picks her rope toy. If both are in her bedroom, we leave the door open, and she goes out with her first pick and takes it to her bed, puts it down, then comes back to get her second pick and takes it to her bed.
She also enjoys batting around her ball. Tango takes her ball to the lower side of her exhibit, lies down, and uses her paw to roll the ball up, then she waits for it to roll back down, then she bats it back up, then waits for it to come back down, etc.
We strive to stimulate as many natural behaviors as possible, and although we may use unnatural things like her rope toy and ball, we can still bring out those natural behaviors. Just a few examples include hiding her rope toy in her exhibit to stimulate hunting and nesting behaviors. Not all hunting behaviors are about food. Lions hunt for the best territory, or they hunt for the most shade-providing tree to sleep under. We use different scents like perfumes or spices to stimulate her sense of smell, and we change around her environment to stimulate her visually.
Tango is all about her hay bed. She usually has two beds in her exhibit: her main bed, back in her cave, and her front bed, which is closer to the viewing area. Tango prefers to chew on her bone in her cave bed. Anything of value to her she collects and brings to her main bed. One day I saw her rearranging all of her collectables. Her ball was to the left, but she didn’t want it over there, so she moved it to her right side. Then she moved her rope toy in front of her to use as a pillow. Her bone was to the right, but she wanted it to the left. She looked over her bed and then started rearranging again. She moved her rope toy up a little, maybe a foot, and after a little more adjusting, though she had no intention of doing anything with these items right then, she had her bed arranged exactly how she wanted it. Then she went to sleep.
Beth McDonald is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.